Income inequality, social cohesion, and class relations: A critique of Wilkinson's neo-durkheimian research program

Carles Muntaner, John Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

228 Citations (Scopus)


Wilkinson's 'income inequality and social cohesion' model has emerged as a leading research program in social epidemiology. Public health scholars and activists working toward the elimination of social inequalities in health can find several appealing features in Wilkinson's research. In particular, it provides a sociological alternative to former models that emphasize poverty, health behaviors, or the cultural aspects of social relations as determinants of population health. Wilkinson's model calls for social explanations, avoids the subjectivist legacy of U.S. functionalist sociology that is evident in 'status' approaches to understanding social inequalities in health, and calls for broad policies of income redistribution. Nevertheless, Wilkinson's research program has characteristics that limit its explanatory power and its ability to inform social policies directed toward reducing social inequalities in health. The model ignores class relations, an approach that might help explain how income inequalities are generated and account for both relative and absolute deprivation. Furthermore, Wilkinson's model implies that social cohesion rather than political change is the major determinant of population health. Historical evidence suggests that class formation could determine both reductions in social inequalities and increases in social cohesion. Drawing on recent examples, the authors argue that an emphasis on social cohesion can be used to render communities responsible for their mortality and morbidity rates: a community-level version of 'blaming the victim.' Such use of social cohesion is related to current policy initiatives in the United States and Britain under the New Democrat and New Labor governments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-81
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Health Services
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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